The North East’s most famous wall is of course that built by and named after the Roman Emperor Hadrian, which starts (or finishes!) here in Newcastle, at Wallsend.
Hadrian's Wall - not in Newcastle!
But Newcastle has its own wall too, which once circled the city – the medieval town wall. This was built during the 13th and 14th centuries, to protect the town in particular during times of conflict between the Scots and the English. When these conflicts became less, the wall was allowed to fall into disrepair.
The town wall was approximately 3 kilometres (2 miles) long. It had seventeen towers, as well as several smaller turrets and postern gates, and was intersected by six main gates: Close Gate, West Gate, New Gate, Pilgrim Gate, Pandon Gate and Sand Gate. The names of some of these remain in the city’s streets and buildings – Westgate Road, Pilgrim Street, Pandon Quays.
As well as these place names, parts of the wall itself remain, and you could spend an enjoyable time searching it out during your walks around the city. The tower in my photos above is the Corner Tower, at the junction of City Road and Melbourne Street just along from the Sandgate area of the Quayside.
There are more substantial remains near Stowell Street in the heart of Newcastle’s small Chinatown, and along nearby Bath Lane, as well as some smaller fragments in St Andrew’s Church.
West walls of the city, near Chinatown
West walls of the city, Bath Lane
There are two remaining parts of the “new” castle that gave the city its name, the Black Gate and the Keep.
The Castle was founded by Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror in 1080 and was like many Norman castles of the motte and bailey type. The original would have been made of wood, and it was rebuilt in stone during the reign of Henry II, between 1168 and 1178, with the addition of a keep. The keep would have acted as both the principal fortification of the castle and the dwelling of the commander of the garrison. It housed, on the ground floor, a great vaulted storeroom and a fine late Norman chapel, and on the first and second floors two suites of accommodation. Each had a hall, or public room, a solar or private room and latrines. Access between floors was by the great spiral stairs in the eastern angles, and from outside by an external stair to the second floor. On the same floor was a well nearly 100 feet deep.
During the reign of Henry III between 1247 and 1250 the Black Gate was added. When the town wall was completed in the mid 14th century the castle became isolated within the new defences, and lost its importance. As early as 1589 it was already being described as old and ruinous. People began to build houses and shops in the ‘Castle Garth’, the area within its old walls.
By the 1800s the Castle Garth was a bustling community full of slum housing, shops, taverns and a meeting hall. Most of this however was demolished when the railways were built in the 1840s, cutting right through the castle, as they still do today.
The Keep is surrounded by the railway tracks!
On one side is the Black Gate, roughly oval in shape, and on the other the Castle Keep. The latter was significantly restored and altered in the early 19th century, with battlements and corner turrets added to create a more Romantic notion of what a castle should look like.
The Black Gate
Both Keep and Black Gate were extensively renovated between 2012 and 2015, and both are now open to the public, though we haven’t been inside for years! But we pass this way often and I always stop to admire the castle’s unusual setting between the railway arches – one of Newcastle’s most distinctive views.
The Black Gate, with Amen Corner and St Nicholas Cathedral beyond